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Archive for August, 2018

This is the café in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The desirable spots near the window were all taken and I had to content myself with a small table against a wall. Oh, well. It was not a spot to be seen in but a spot from which to see.  You can practice seeing anywhere.  And behold, here I had a scene with back-lighting.

Back-lighting creates a stark lighting contrast.  It simplifies forms.  Dark-light.  Positive space-negative space.

The first image, above, illustrates a woman sitting on a bar stool, absorbed in her reading.  In the composition she is centrally situated and framed by the window in the background. The picture is about her and invites the viewer to wonder what kind of life she might have and what she would be reading.  The pitcher, more in the foreground, might nudge the interpretation towards trite symbolism.

The second image is more edgy. The woman is not central to the composition

anymore. She now occupies a small area to the left.  Most of the pictorial space, about two-thirds, consists of blocky rectangular planes. The woman is still the psychological focus, but these rectangular shapes not only dominate the pictorial surface but seem to impinge on her presence, with the top layer actually pushing against her face.  This tension and imbalance makes picture #2 more engaging than #1.

Now look what happens in #3.  At the center of the composition we have negative space —that is, nothing. It’s a narrow gap separating the human form from the rectangular.  Almost.  If the gap were uninterrupted, it wouldn’t be so interesting.  But the hand holding the booklet bridges the figure to the rectangular mass on the right. The back-lighting here separates foreground sharply from background, dark from light. Therefore, we are not invited to psychologize about the woman. Instead we’re free to roam through the composition, noticing gradations and transitions, alignments, contrasts and echoes.

The pitcher? Yes, it echoes the shape of the woman, but it doesn’t lead your imagination into the ol’ 19th century odalisque motif. It’s as flat a shape as the cross-section of the bar, thanks to the back-lighting.

And…that sliver of light between the bridge of the nose and the window frame.

My salad came. I slid my little Canon back into my pocket.  My seeing exercise might have taken thirty seconds.  It’s only when I had time to look at these three photos on my computer that I noticed these intricacies.  That’s another exercise in seeing.  Took, oh, better part of an afternoon.  The pleasure of seeing.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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